World War II Program Helps Manufacturers Stay Lean

In an era of global competition, American manufacturers have looked to the principles of lean manufacturing, eliminating waste in the manufacturing process and doing more with less, as a way to stay competitive.

With speed a critical factor for success, some manufacturers have turned to an old on-the-job training system that was developed during World War II. Training Within Industry was a government service that focused not on training the unskilled workers but on training their supervisors to effectively teach the necessary skills in a step-by-step process and to cooperate with the workers to achieve productivity. With much of the American workforce at war in the early 1940s, manufacturers needed a quick, efficient way to bring workers up to speed to produce the machines of war. After World War II, the TWI system was used to help Japan restore its manufacturing capability and served as the basis for Toyota Motor Corporation’s highly successful manufacturing methods.

TWI solutions are still being implemented throughout the country in a variety of industries. What was once a footnote in the history of American manufacturing is now helping companies maintain or win a competitive edge in the global market. A few years ago the nonprofit TWI Institute was founded to revive TWI as a training solution for American manufacturers. The institute offers hands-on learning and practice for supervisors, following many of the TWI concepts developed in the 1940s.

With some modifications, the TWI Institute offers many of the same training services from the World War II program, including the following:

  • Job Instruction
  • Job Methods
  • Job Relations

Job Instruction teaches supervisors to train workers by breaking down a job into its individual steps and then observing and coaching the workers as they perform the job. Job Methods is also about breaking down a job, but its goal is to have supervisors teach workers to analyze each step to find areas for improvement: to eliminate, combine, rearrange, or simplify steps to enhance the manufacturing process. Obviously these programs cannot be successful without a good relationship between supervisor and worker. The Job Relations program focuses on this issue by building a positive work environment, with strong communication and cooperation.

For every day the workforce is without this kind of training, more ground is lost against the competition. Lean manufacturing puts much of the responsibility for improving operational efficiency on the workforce. Lean requires a flexible, mobile, highly skilled, and knowledgeable workforce. It is about cooperation between supervisor and workers, sharing ideas, and moving away from “Do what I say” to “Can we do this together?”